May 16, 2007

Quietly Practicing Wicca


There's a good piece in the The New York Times today on the increasing popularity of Wicca and the secrecy around its practice.

Among the most popular religions to have flowered since the 1960s, Wicca — a form of paganism — still faces a struggle for acceptance, experts on the religion and Wiccans themselves said. In April, Wiccans won an important victory when the Department of Veterans Affairs settled a lawsuit and agreed to add the Wiccan pentacle to a list of approved religious symbols that it will engrave on veterans’ headstones.

But Wicca in the civilian world is largely a religion in hiding. Wiccans fear losing their friends and jobs if people find out about their faith.

Taking aim at some of the myths about Wicca and its supposed association with Satanism, the article does a fair job of explaining some of the symbols and practices.

“It’s a very open religion,” said Helen A. Berger, a sociology professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. “Each person can do what they want, and they don’t have to belong to a group. They take things from a number of different sources, like Eastern religions, Celtic practices. You are the ultimate authority of your own experience.”

But its symbols and practices elicit suspicion from outsiders, Wiccans and religion scholars say.

Many Wiccans practice some form of magic or witchcraft, which they say is a way of affecting one’s destiny, but which many outsiders see as evil. The Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star inside a circle, is often confused with symbols of Satanism. (The five points of the star represent the elements of nature — earth, air, fire and water — and the spirit, within the eternal circle of life.)

There's not a lot of new information here. But, it's nice to see some recognition of the increasingly popular practice in the paper of record; and of the continuing difficulty for practitioners to practice openly. For more information on the VA's approval of pentacles, see here.

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